“Why were you staring at that bank?” “I was thinking of robbing it.”
Dir: John Duigan
St: Steve Coogan, Lena Headey, Om Puri, Ben Miller, Steven Waddington, Jenny Agutter
The Parole Officer (2001)Life rehabilitating ex-convicts into the community can be tough but parole officer Simon Garden can at least count on his success, all three of them (the less said about the other 997 the better). The dilemma he faces though is getting these now reformed criminals to do the proverbial “one last job” on a city bank in Manchester. Oh, it’s not for the money though, it’s for a videotape locked in a safety deposit box that shows bent copper Burton wringing the life out of a human being, well an accountant at any rate, a crime for which our hapless hero has been framed. This disparate band of are joined by Simon’s new case, a ram-raiding juvenile delinquent named Kirsty who was unfortunate enough to be relived of a narc-stuffed koala by the soon-to-be award winning Inspector Burton. The job is on…
Simon Garden falls into the well meaning but painfully inept category that Coogan most famously realised as sports journalist and TV host Alan Partridge but is less crass, a trait that makes his bungling character more empathetic, Partridge having had many years to reveal his various foibles. Despite the story centring on the titular parole officer though this is very much an ensemble piece in the mould of The Lavender Hill Mob or The Ladykillers although this time the criminals are masterminding a crime to expose a murderer rather than to any personal financial gain. Like the aforementioned Ealing comedies The Parole Officer relies on characterisation for the bulk of its humour and, despite some sight gags, this is essentially a situation and relationship comedy rather than an outright slapstick one. The scripts twist on the heist movie is a good one as is the necessity for the main character to undo his only successes to date in order to save his skin and provide justice. Where it perhaps falls a bit thin is in its desire to appeal to as much of the audience as possible resulting in a case of Jack of all trades. Thus we see the film on the tail end of the gross-out comedy (Simon vomits into a child’s face not once but three, count ’em, times), reviving the peek-a-boo saucy seaside postcard aspects of the Carry On films, the absurd plan ideas, the Pink Panther style police force, the film pastiche, the “he’s behind you” pantomime approach and even the stunt work as characterised by the Michael Crawford school. Mixing this with a plot that’s half The Italian Job and half a Hitchcock man-on-the-run thriller and you have a film that, despite its lack of international appeal toffs, is as British as they come. Unfortunately this also extends to the look of the film for while the films is nice constructed and features a surprisingly strong (for a low budget comedy) surround mix the cinematography lacks definition, a pity as a lot of the film revolves around “action” sequences (such as the absail to the bank) which could really have benefited from more vivid photography.
By no means the funniest of British films The Parole Officer is at least a jolly good laugh that doesn’t play for a world audience but a local one and feels more honest for it. There’s enough plot (and a couple of great cameos) to mean that even when the jokes don’t connect you still have something to enjoy and frankly given the recent spate of mercilessly un-funny comedies to expect too much else would be churlish.